Braille Monitor                                                             February 2007

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Someone You Should Know: Patti S. Gregory-Chang

by Ronza M. Othman

Patti Gregory-Chang From the Editor: The following article was first published in the Illinois State Bar Association's Administrative Law Section newsletter in November 2006. It also appeared in the Government Section newsletter. It features newly elected National Federation of the Blind of Illinois President Patti Gregory-Chang. The article provides a three-dimensional look at one of our newest affiliate presidents and how she got where she is today. The author’s name, Ronza Othman, should also be familiar. Ronza was a 2006 NFB Scholarship winner. She is completing her final semester of law school at DePaul University College of Law. Here is her profile of NFB of Illinois President Patti Gregory-Chang:

Patti S. Gregory-Chang is undoubtedly someone you should know. Through dedication and drive she has become a prominent government attorney, advocate for the blind community, and exemplary wife and mother. Chang combines compassion, diligence, and commitment in every aspect of her life. She grew up in Harbor Springs, Michigan, where she lived with her younger brother Gerald and her parents, who divorced when she was fourteen. She later made her home with her father, step-mother, and older step-brother Tom, who died tragically in a fire at the age of thirty-four.

During high school she spent time living with each parent. She became an accomplished horsewoman and cattle driver while working on her grandfather’s ranch. Chang participated in her high school’s marching band and flag corps. At the age of twelve her life changed irrevocably when she was diagnosed with a genetic eye condition called microthalmia. This disorder causes a diminution in sight over time because the eyes are too small. In addition to the microthalmia, Chang was diagnosed with cataracts and glaucoma. She was told to expect to lose more and more sight as time progressed.

Chang realized that she could succeed as a blind woman. She worked hard in high school to earn scholarships and was accepted at Michigan State University. She majored in elementary education with plans to become a teacher for the visually impaired and blind community. She recognized an interest in learning about other cultures, so she student-taught history and social studies. After obtaining her teaching certification, she realized that she could have a greater impact as a lawyer than as a teacher. She attended the University of Chicago Law School and was admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1988. She was the first person in her family to earn a graduate degree.
During the summers as a law student Chang clerked for a private firm. After law school, however, she began to research government agencies that emphasized the welfare of the public. She wanted to work for the City of Chicago and was thrilled to receive an offer right out of law school. After a short stint in the Traffic Division, she transferred to Building and Land Use, where she has remained for eighteen years.

Chang has been very happy working in Building and Land Use. “What in people’s lives is more important than the space in which they live? Whether we’re talking about the quality of construction of their apartments or houses, or if there is crime in their neighborhood because of a vacant building, or if people are getting sick because there is no heat in their building, we’re talking about basic standard-of-living issues, and this is where I can make the most impact. What the City does is really about safety of the public.”

Chang litigated cases as an assistant corporation counsel for the City of Chicago for ten years. She received a promotion to senior assistant corporation counsel in 1998 when she began taking on administrative duties. Currently she supervises seven attorneys, approximately fifteen law clerks and externs, and four paralegals in the Administrative Law Unit. She interviews and hires about fifty attorneys and law clerks each year for the Building and Land Use Division. Her unit handles prosecutions at the City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings. These cases involve prosecuting violations of the city’s building code for the Department of Buildings, fire code for the Fire Department, and lead paint cases for the Health Department. This unit also handles cases for the Department of Construction and Permits concerning false statements made on permit applications as well as general contractors operating without licenses. Chang and her staff will handle four thousand cases this year.

Chang also serves on a number of task forces aimed at protecting the public’s welfare. Currently she litigates one to two days a week and spends the remainder of the week handling supervisory, training, and administrative duties. “I enjoy this position because I still get to litigate cases, but I also get the opportunity to teach and train new attorneys and clerks. I am able to combine my training as an attorney with my love for teaching.”

Chang is committed to her work with the Building and Land Use Division because of a personal tragedy. Her older brother died in a fire because his home lacked proper drywall and smoke detectors. “If we do our jobs well, we don’t have another Our Lady of the Angels fire. If we do our jobs well, people live.”

In addition to her professional accolades, Chang has a very active personal life. She is married to Francisco Chang, a nurse at Resurrection Hospital. They are busy raising two children. John is currently a sophomore in high school, and Julia is in the sixth grade. Both John and Julia enjoy extracurricular activities and excel academically.

Chang and her family value multiculturalism. Francisco is of Chinese dissent and was raised in Belize. The Chang family integrates the Asian, Hispanic, and American cultures in their home and activities.

Chang spends her free time working with the communities that influence her life most. She holds the position of first vice president for both the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the organization, and she was recently elected as president of the Illinois affiliate. She serves as the special events coordinator for both. Additionally, she mentors new members to the organization. She also volunteers with the PuiTak Center in Chinatown. There she assists permanent residents in becoming U.S. citizens by administering naturalization practice exams and review sessions. Chang is also active in the Chinatown Christian Union Church as well as in Bible study and fellowship groups. She sits on the Section Council for the Illinois State Bar Association Administrative Law Section, where she is a frequent contributor to the newsletter.

Chang’s blindness permeates all aspects of her life. She travels with a cane and reads using Braille and adaptive technology. Her computer is equipped with software called JAWS, which converts printed text to audio formatting. She carries a BrailleLite, which allows her to create documents, enter appointments, and take notes with Braille output. In court she uses a live reader. “This is usually someone I’m training. It’s a good system because it teaches the person to find information independently and not to rely on a supervisor to point it out.”

Chang believes that her blindness has given her a great deal more than it has taken away. She never would have sought higher education had she been sighted. The Department of Rehabilitation Services helped finance her education because of her disability. She met her husband when she hired him as her reader. “I think my blindness has given me the drive to really succeed. I’m just stubborn enough that, when people tell me I can’t do something, I try to figure out a way to do it. Society tells you a lot about what you can’t do. I think that my blindness actually makes me want to be more productive because on some level I can prove what I can do to myself and to society.”

Chang demonstrates commitment to the betterment of society in all aspects of her life. She works diligently to safeguard the well-being of the public through her work with the City of Chicago Law Department. She promotes the rights of the blind community through her work with the National Federation of the Blind and assists immigrants to become Americans by volunteering at PuiTak. She does this while raising a family. It is through diligence, commitment, and compassion that Chang influences so many lives.

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